To The Top
There are times in our lives when we run out of things to say. Yep, even me. The last week or so, I have struggled. I love my blog and the sense of community I feel when my words reach and affect people. But I’ve been tired, and disheartened, and that wasn’t something I wanted to project on such a scale.
But I’m climbing.
On Saturday I woke up with a cold. Which is small, but after a week of infections, hospitalisations, ambulances and pain, it felt less like a virus, and more like a disaster. I struggle with my health. And the previous weekend my body had robbed me of a meeting with my poetry crew, a desperately needed job interview, my entire stomach contents and days in which I could achieve, rather than convalesce. So I decided that instead of laying back and wallowing in the rushing in my ears and the aching in my throat, I would climb a mountain.
No, really. There’s a mountain out my bathroom window. Mangere Mountain has been looming over me since I moved back to New Zealand earlier this year, hoping for a fresh start: the opportunity to begin again. I chose my current house partially because of the lovely people and the expansive yard for my small dog, but mostly for the cows roaming the hillside, offering me the kind of home I could feel in my heritage. I’m a country girl at heart and did most of my real growing on my grandparents’ farm in the King Country. I looked at the mountain and imagined my dog and I scaling it daily, watching the sunset from our perch on top of the world. Or, failing the world, South Auckland.
This year, however, had other plans. Aside from my health issues, the triumphant return of the ex-pat leaves much to be desired. Yes, I was back near my family and friends, but I found that in my absence, my space had been filled. I had been gone a long time, carving out room for myself in new places, with new people, but somehow expected all that I had left to be unchanging. When my mother died I wondered how the world could simply continue without realising she was gone. I didn’t understand why it wouldn’t stop turning. Why her face wasn’t screened on every channel. Why our entire country refused to go into eternal morning. Arrogant as it seems, I think there was an element of this belief in my own absence. I imagined that family Christmases felt completely empty without my presence, that friends would refuse to make new friends and date people I hadn’t met and that I would return, joyously, to the fold, forgetting why I had left in the first place. I also held a strange notion that I could continue to maintain all my relationships and friendships overseas, and that the slam poetry community in Melbourne would go on strike, staging gigs only during my visits.
It hurt, a lot, to drive down my old streets and see that people had kept on living. It hurt more to drive home to Mangere each night questioning my every choice. I had defined myself in my leaving, and placed expectation upon my return. I would follow the South Eastern motorway crying, wondering what choices I had made to lead me here.
I found that in New Zealand I don’t really have the choice to define myself. My excellent schooling defined me in the eyes of others, no matter what sacrifices my mother made to ensure that I could attend. The area I grew up in meant everything, no matter where I lived now. And it’s not a hardship, to be privileged, but it is confusing: to move from a place in which you are who you want to be, and your history is yours to carry, to a place in which you are what your parents were, and chose for you to be. This was amplified by the fact that I had just returned from India, a place in which so many are anonymous, so many have so little, and so many travellers choose to shed themselves. I found myself questioning who I was. The answer was a resounding silence.
The truth is that I was grieving. I flew out of this country merely a week after my mother’s funeral. I ran. I ran hard and fast and far and didn’t look back. I returned for holidays, sure, but never allowed myself to become entrenched in the day-to-day humanity of existing in a space absent of her. I never fixed the hurt I felt from my father, and while I walked around for six years claiming to have forgiven him, I had only ignored him, and certainly had never forgiven myself. I still find it gut-wrenchingly hard to drive past my mother’s house. I refuse to take any route that leads me past the hospice in which she died. I recently went to the supermarket where we used to shop when I was young, and after I left I went home, curled in a ball, and cried. I’ve dissolved into panic and tears every time a doctor has asked me my family history, this year. I thought I was over that. But in leaving I just delayed something which was always going to come. Add to this dire financial straits, a frustrating and painful body and a sense of disconnect from all that I held dear, and you can see why I wanted to leap onboard a plane heading for anywhere else endless times this year.
However, last Thursday I had my last day of university for the year, symbolising the fact that I had completed an entire year of study, and even completed a qualification, without dropping out. Considering that this is the sixth attempt at tertiary study for Kirsti the Professional Flake, it’s a fairly big deal. And on Saturday I summoned my brother, who has stayed by my side this entire turbulent year, and told him I wanted to climb a mountain.
For many, climbing Mangere Mountain is a simple and daily task. I see them scaling the thing as I brush my teeth each morning. For me, in was a challenge. But dog at heel and water in hand, I hauled myself up that damn hill, drawing breath so hard my shoulders began to ache. At some points I climbed on my hands and knees, my brother and dog halting at the terraces and waiting for me. I puffed on my inhaler, rested a moment, then hauled some more. I didn’t dare to look down, afraid I would topple backwards and fall. But I kept looking up. I told myself, after each step, that I could do it. I became a cheesy 90’s motivational speaker, telling myself I had it in the bag. Under my wheezing breath I kept telling myself it wasn’t much further – and, truth be told, it wasn’t. It’s steep, but not that big of a climb. What was big, however, was achieving something I wasn’t sure I could. And when I got to the top and looked out at the harbour along which my plane first landed from all the places I had run to, I felt like I had done something.
I didn’t quite feel that I belonged. And I still didn’t know if I had made the right choice. But sometimes I think life isn’t about making the right choices. There isn’t always a clear path. Sometimes you just have to stick to the path you’re on, and just keep on keeping on. I chose to return here, and this year has granted me more gifts than lumps of coal. The truth is I was lost in Australia too. I was lost in Scotland, I was lost in France, I was lost in Austria and I was lost in India. I was lost before I left.
A wise woman, my mother’s best friend, told me that we have to be our own anchors to this earth. Meaning that we couldn’t ask anyone else to hold us down. I have often questioned this, believing that if I found the right place, the right person, the right family, I would just know that I was secure, and wouldn’t need a stable weight around my ankle. But on top of that mountain, I knew what she meant. We have to find within ourselves, in the midst of that which feels mundane and wrong and painful and confusing, a home. My home is not New Zealand, or Australia, or my mother, or even my dog. My home is a place within me. It is the voice that tells me to keep climbing, even when I want to give up. Especially when I want to give up. It is the compass that points me in the direction of the arms of those I love. It is the instinct which tells me to love my father, and to offer him more chances than he has earned. It’s writing. It’s poetry. And it is built from all that I have been, and all that I have the power to become. If I just keep on going.
And you know what I did this afternoon?
I climbed Mangere Mountain.
It was easier the second time, knowing that this was something I could do.
I still wonder where I fit in the world. And I still miss the places and people I have left behind. But there’s no end goal. There’s just the journey. Because once you hit the top, there’s nowhere to go but down.